Guest Editorial By Frank Figliuzzi, COO of ETS Risk Management, Inc. and former FBI Assistant Director for counterintelligence
If security leaders would use social media as much in their professional lives as they do in their private lives they would be amazed at the results.
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), the collection and analysis of publicly available data in an intelligence context, remains the most overlooked and underutilized tool in the security tool box.
Academic research and real-life results speak to the size and scope of available data and its value in assessing risk, resolving all manner of investigations, and predicting outcomes.
Numerous media outlets have reported on new research that accuses Facebook of helping to introduce thousands of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremists to one another via its “suggested friends” feature.
(Facebook is being accused of inadvertently helping Islamist extremists connect and recruit new members. A new report in The Telegraph cites research suggesting that the social media giant connected and introduced thousands of extremists through its “suggested friends” feature. J.M. Berger, a fellow with the Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications program and author of “Extremism,” joins CBSN with some perspective on the report. Courtesy of CBS Evening News and YouTube. Posted on May 6, 2018)
This important research by the Counter Extremism Project, scheduled for full release in May 2018, explains how Facebook’s complex algorithms actively connected jihadists around the world allowing them to develop fresh terror networks and even recruit new members to their cause.
One researcher found himself swarmed by invitations from new radical “friends” and was “inundated within hours of clicking on several non-extremist news pages about an Islamist uprising in the Philippines.”
The researchers studied known radical extremists and determined an alarmingly high percentage became friends courtesy of Facebook’s introductions.
OSINT is rapidly gaining acceptance in corporate and government sectors as a means of detecting violent radicalization in job candidates and on-board employees.
Intelligence analysts and firms specializing in Arabic language social media are in high demand as they increasingly demonstrate proficiency in finding applicants with ISIS flags in their profile photos, contractors who try to post beheading videos on YouTube, and managers who advocate on-line for death to infidels.
But OSINT’s value extends well beyond the search for radicals.
Security professionals of all stripes should see this research as perhaps the most vivid reminder thus far of the value of OSINT in establishing a subject’s personal and professional associations, propensity to violence, mental health status, substance abuse, financial situation, employment disaffection and more, regardless of the nature of the investigation or risk.
To understand how prolific social media has become, and therefore how likely it is to contain pertinent information, the latest Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults is illustrative.
The Pew study, “Social Media Use in 2018”, published on March 1, 2018, revealed that most Americans now use both Facebook (68%) and YouTube (73%).
YouTube use climbs to 94% in the 18-24 years old age demographic and close to half of that age group (45%) are Twitter users.
The survey found that, “LinkedIn remains especially popular among college graduates and those in high-income households.”
Some 50% of Americans with a college degree use LinkedIn.
If you knew that the odds of learning more about your risk concern, supplier, investigative subject, job applicant, or candidate for corporate officer could increase by anywhere from 50% to 94% would you try it?
And, if it got results would you make it a regular part of your investigative and risk mitigation efforts?
Recent client experiences from our firm and from industry colleagues indicate that OSINT not only makes cases but has quickly ascended to the top of investigative techniques; The security professional who chooses to not engage in comprehensive OSINT is neither secure nor professional.
(An example. Erick Jamal Hendricks, 37, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was convicted on March 20, 2018 by a jury in Akron, Ohio, of attempting and conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Courtesy of WCNC News, Space Kraken and YouTube. Posted on Aug 5, 2016)
In one matter, postings by the subject reflected a specific mental disorder which helped to design a strategy for the client to best engage the subject.
In a threat case, one victim’s Facebook account contained enough specific data to indicate that the suspect obtained his list of victims from that one person’s profile.
In yet another investigation the subject’s travel postings coincided with suspected locations of operational meetings on behalf of a terror group.
Increasingly, security leaders systematically incorporate OSINT analysis from proven experts not only to get results, but because it is has become the new professional standard in the industry.
About the Author:
Frank Figliuzzi is the Chief Operating Officer of ETS Risk Management, Inc., which consults with global clients on intelligence analysis, insider threat, and investigations.
Frank was the FBI’s Assistant Director for counterintelligence and a corporate security executive for General Electric, and is a national security contributor for NBC News.
(Frank Figliuzzi on MSNBC discussing domestic violence and its connection with Mass Shootings as in the Texas Church Shooting and how it can potentially be prevented in the future. Courtesy of MSNBC and YouTube. Posted on Mar 16, 2018)